Monday, October 06, 2008


Posted by Anonymous.

My dear mother-in-law,

I don't know that you realized this weekend how much your cavalier comments regarding the abuse that I endured as a child have wounded me. Your flip responses and unwillingness to hear what I was saying have thrown me into a tailspin, causing me to recall many of the painful, humiliating, terrorizing events of my childhood. I feel that I need to clarify exactly what I mean when I say that I was abused, so that you can make your own decision whether or not to believe me.

This weekend you repeated to me, multiple times, that you assumed that my father was "only" verbally abusive. While "only" being verbally and emotionally abusive may seem like a trivial matter to you, the fact is that those are the wounds that never seem to heal. The bones that have been broken and the bruises that I've had are long since gone, but I deal with the after effects of the emotional abuse to this day. While you may have convinced yourself that I was "only" verbally abused, I can recall several occasions where I discussed with you about exactly what my childhood was like and described the abuse that I endured. The fact that you don't recall these conversations forces me to believe that you did not take my history seriously, and dismissed it. If you once again choose to disregard my truths, I'm afraid that for the best interest of my marriage and my child, I will have as little to do with you as possible. I simply cannot tolerate your type of negativity and close-mindedness – I have worked too hard to build a happy, productive life.

For your edification, I will give you a few examples, and a bit of history:

My very first memory is of my father lunging across our kitchen table to try and strangle my mother. She had made some sort of financial mistake, and written the wrong number in a ledger in pen. He pulled out a large clump of her hair – she never even fought back. I was sitting on the floor, playing with the dog. I couldn't have been more than two and a half when this happened. Shortly thereafter, his attention and anger shifted toward me. I bore the brunt of his abuse until I left home at 18.

In another of my earliest memories, Dad had made me cereal for lunch. He was taking care of me that day, because he was in college and preschool was expensive. I was eating the cereal out of a bowl that stuck onto the table by means of a big suction cup on the bottom. While trying to get the last of my Cheerio's out of the bowl, I accidentally upended it, spilling the milk all over the kitchen floor. Dad made me lick the milk up off the floor, telling me that I had to get every drop or he would beat me. He then made me spend the rest of the afternoon crawling on all fours like the "animal I was." He didn't like messes, you see.

When I was in elementary school and had gotten in trouble for something (I don't remember what) Dad forgot to hit me where my clothes would cover the bruises. I lipped off, and he hit me with a balled fist. I got a horrible black eye – I had a laceration on my eyelid and my eye itself almost swelled closed. My Mom, who was teaching in the same school as me at the time, told everyone that I had fallen down the steep stairs to our basement. They believed her. I learned a hard lesson that day. Adults were quite willing to believe a story told to make them feel better, at the expense of the well being of a child. Of course, I was too scared to tell anyone what really happened. Sadly, it seems to me that you, too, would rather invent for me a happier childhood than the one that fate dealt me.

The day that I was graduating from high school, I spent the afternoon home with my father and grandmother. Dad decided that I absolutely had to change the oil and filters on my car before he'd allow me to go to my graduation. I was graduating 8th in a class of four hundred and something kids, and receiving several awards for academic excellence. He said that he "didn't give a fuck what I'd done in school, that I would always be an arrogant little bitch, and he was going to teach me a lesson." He did. He knocked me around, pushing me to the ground in the garage and shoving my face underneath the car. I somehow managed to change the oil and the filters and still make it with minutes to spare to the graduation ceremony, though I remember still having grease on my hands. It was a hard day for him. It's always been difficult for him to see me succeed where he'd failed, and he dropped out of high school at 17. All I could think about was how the end of high school and my childhood meant that I could get away, far, far away, from him.

I thought that leaving home would be the answer to all of the problems that I had with my father. I had always baited him when he was angry and spoiling for a fight, because, quite frankly, I was the only person in the family who could endure his wrath. I always figured that if I diverted his rage towards me, my mother and sister would be safe. And it worked, until I left home. As soon as I left, he turned his abuse more towards them, and I was powerless to do anything about it from thousands of miles away.

I accepted plane tickets from him to come home from college over spring break; despite the fact that I knew it was a bad idea. By this point in my life, I realized that everything he'd ever given me came with strings attached. But I was desperate to see my mom and sister, to make sure that they were doing all right, so I came home. Within a few days of my (two week) vacation, he decided that I'd broken his computer. And when I couldn't fix it quickly enough, he threw me into a wall, then another, then a chair. When I reached out to hit him back (by this time I was in therapy and realized that I could not let him abuse me and retain what shreds of dignity I had left), he grabbed my wrist. I heard it snap. I got in my car and called a friend from the the out-of-state college that I was attending who was in town visiting high school friends at the local University. She told me to go to the doctor, and I did. I had 3 broken ribs and a hairline fracture in my wrist. While this was the first time that I'd had x-rays to show that my ribs were broken, I remembered having the exact same pain many times as a child. The x-rays showed that my ribs had many previously healed fractures. I can't say that I was surprised. I spent the rest of my break staying with a stranger (a friend of a friend) in the dorms, because I didn't have anywhere else to go. I swore then that I would never let him hurt me again.

The next year, I returned to my hometown to attend the state school there. I knew that, academically, it was a poor decision. I had a 3.95 GPA and a great scholarship at my out-of-state school – it wasn't as though I'd had any trouble succeeding there. But the suspense of worrying about my family day in and day out was wearing on me, and I made the decision after the spring break incident that I needed to be closer to my sister. At that time, she was only 10 years old. I wanted to be able to provide that safe haven for her if she ever needed it, the one that I'd never had. So I rented an apartment with another student, rather than moving into the dorms. If she needed a place to stay, I wouldn't be allowed to take her in with me in the dorms. An apartment had no such restrictions.

At school in my hometown that fall, I met your son. I was, when I met him, prickly at best. I was just learning how to live on my own, and dealing with many more issues than most other kids my age. Nevertheless, his kindness and generosity helped convince me that every man was not necessarily out to hurt me. Quite simply put, he restored my faith in the opposite sex, and taught me that the way I was brought up was the NOT way it had to be. I fell in love with his kindness first, because I was unaccustomed to a person who genuinely cared for someone else without expecting something in return. Without feeling the need to hurt them. Until I met your son, I had thought that pain and love were inseparable, at least in my life. I credit his upbringing with the majority of his kindness – you should be proud of him. He is a truly good person, in a world where such character is increasingly rare.

That brings me back to why I'm writing you this letter. Because, you see, I have worried for years that I would not be able to break the cycle of abuse. And now that we are expecting a child, it weighs increasingly on me. I know in my heart that I would not intentionally hurt my child, but I still fear it. That was what I was trying to express at breakfast the other day. But you chose to misinterpret what I said, to twist it. I don't know if it was your ignorance that prompted your comment about "having to set my child's bones" or some sort of hubris, but I want you to know that it was out of line. That it hurt me deeply, because to me, that comment and those that followed proved to me that you either never listened to my story, or have chosen not to hear it.

With a child on the way, I will again be in a position where I need to protect someone other than just myself. I will not allow anyone else to again twist my childhood to make it appear something it was not. I lived in a house where irrational anger and unexpected tirades ruled. I learned to cover bruises with makeup before I was 10. I have risen from that upbringing to become a generally positive, productive, successful adult. Your son has played the major role in my transformation. He, too, has sacrificed so that we could live near my sister and create a home for her, should she need it. He, too, has deflected my father's anger many a time.

I know that it is difficult for you to reconcile my relationship my family with how I feel about the abuse. Simply put, I abhor the sin but love the sinner. While I have managed to forgive everyone involved, I still would not trust my father not to hurt me or someone else again. That isn't ignoring the abuse, that's just being responsible. He has proven over and over again that he is incapable of controlling his anger, and it is only prudent for me to take the appropriate precautions to protect myself and those that I love.

By denying the conditions that made me who I am, you are ignoring what I consider to be one of my greatest achievements. I stood (close) by and bore witness to my father's abuse – to the extent that I was able, I did not allow him to pass that abuse on to my sister as he had to me. I have protected my mother whenever I could, despite the fact that she was, at best, complicit in most of the abuse. I have been there for them. My mother and sister have known that I would do everything in my power to protect them. My sister always knew that if she wanted me to, I would sue for custody of her. For the last eight years, she has had a safe place to go, with strong locks on the doors. She had a haven to run to when he was being irrational and she was afraid. And she needed that safe place, many times. She never had to sleep in a car when it was below freezing outside, as I did. I am proud of that. I think that your son is, too.

In the interest of maintaining a relationship with you, I can't allow you to insist that I am lying about my childhood. I can't allow you to twist my reality to fit the mold that you would like all families to fit. It is simply too important to me that I remember, so that I can bear witness against it should I ever face that demon again in my life. So that I can stand up for others who do not have the resources or fortitude to stand up for themselves. You can choose either to accept my less-than-perfect upbringing, or not. But if you continue to dispute me on it every time it comes up, I will have to have as little to do with you as possible, for my own self-preservation. I still fall apart when these memories are called, unbidden, from the deepest recesses of my mind. I have been a mess for days. I am hoping that clarifying what I have lived through will help you to be more compassionate, and less aggressively argumentative when I discuss such things around you. If you can't handle it, I understand that, too. But it means that you will play a seriously limited role in my life, and that of my child.


Your daughter-in-law


Unknown said...

I'm a so sorry to hear that you had such a traumatic childhood. Your husband has helped you to become better, but it was your willingness to be better that made it possible. It's hard to break the cycle of dysfunction but I believe that you can. It takes a heightened sense of emotional awareness to deal with the reality of your father and his affect on you. You have done that and I believe that your being emotionally aware will help you to become the parent you want to be.

I wish you all the best.

Anonymous said...

a very well written and heart breaking story. This story touched me because my father had his bouts with irrational anger, he never took it out on my mom though, thankfully, just us kids and the times were rare and never life threatening, but you couldn't have told us that at the time. It was scary. I think your note to your MIL is very clear. She may be trying to trivialize your abuse to push it to the side in hopes of forgetting about it, not knowing how integral a part of you it is. It's a shame to have to spell it out for some people who should know and understand, but you have done a great job. Good luck in the pregnancy and because you are so aware and open about the past, I don't think there will be any issue for you as a parent.

Anonymous said...

YOu are an amazing person.

Send your MIL the letter.

Anonymous said...

I am impressed by this so much. I agree with the previous comment. I think you should send this letter to her. It might change things, but you will not have the burden of resentment. You wrote it in a way that isn't disrespectful and written out of anger and pain. I think she needs to see it. I hope it makes a difference.

Shelia said...

This hit home for me on a thousand levels... many of which I wish I could forget. You are an amazing woman and have chosen to do better, because you know better.

I, too, deal with those who stood by and allowed not only myself, but 5 other siblings to be abused at the hand of our mother, and occasionally our father if she could manipulate him into doing her bidding... which he sometimes did. Just the other day, a family friend whom I've considered my second mother, told my sister and I what a wonderful mother we had and how lucky we are to have her in our lives. While we told her our mother has little contact with us (at her choice) and does not acknowledge her grandchildren, we feel that our mother is extremely selfish and ONLY thinks of herself. This 2nd mother to me almost spit in our faces that our mother was the least selfish woman she knows, the most wonderful doting mother to us, and how dare we speak such things.

To speak the truth. Funny how it doesn't hurt us... only those who knew the truth and did nothing.

Stick to your guns... for those comments will continue for not only you to hear, but your children as well. They may not make sense to them, but they will be watching. They will see their grandmother hurting their mother.

That is NOT ok. You are amazing.

Anonymous said...

Truly, you are a strong woman. I am so glad that you found such wonderful man, and I hope that either he will talk to his mother or that you will send her the letter. That you endured so much and still endure the consequences and yet sound like you've become a stable and healthy spouse and parent-to-be is, indeed, something to be proud of, and it's not something to be diminished or taken away from you. Your voice is so full of strength, and I admire you.

Green said...

I agree with those who suggest you send this to your MIL. I rarely feel that people should send these "I need to vent about my mother in law before I explode" letters to them, but in this case, I think you should.

She helped your husband become the wonderful man it sounds like he is today, and quite frankly, it doesn't sound like your parents will be the doting grandparents. Maybe if you can get this out in the open with your MIL the two of you can work past it, and you can enjoy seeing your child have a relationship with one of its grandmothers.

Nothing in your letter is mean, and if your MIL has any heart at all, she should understand your point, even though she's clearly missed it in the past.

BTW, you *SHOULD* be proud of yourself for getting away, and for providing your sister with a safe place with strong locks.

Avalon said...

My very first thought:

send it.

Then I sat and considered the implications of sending this to your MIL.

My second thought:


Anonymous said...

I just wanted to let you know that with the strength you show in this letter, and the love of your spouse you can break this cycle, and make life for your children much better than the one you endured as a child.
How do I know this? Your story could be mine except that my father also was a sexual abuser, along with the beatings and emotional abuse. My mother was also abusive, and emotionally unavailable.

25 years ago I married a great guy, who loved me like I never knew love and who - even when he found out years later about the extent of my abusive past - continues to this day to be the best man and best father ever. ( My MIL died just before we were married, and from what I knew of her, she would not have been like yours.)

The bottom line is that we have two daughters, ages 22 and 16. No one has ever been abusive to them in their lives. They are happy, successful, normal, savvy, sweet, loving, smart, pretty girls. *I* raised them to be that way, with a little help *grin* They are my revenge on my awful parents.

I broke the bonds of abuse. You can too! Don't be so worried! just keep an eye on your moods and get help if you need it. Forgive yourself if you get off track a little, and remember the goal.

There's a lot of us out here cheering for you!

Anonymous said...

You can absolutely break that cycle of abuse, and I think you already have. Awareness is the first step, then acknowledgment, then control. You'll be a beautiful mother.

I hope you do send this to your mother-in-law; it's respectful yet firm and very well-put. I also hope you'll save a copy for your child to read someday; I don't believe that we should burden young children with the horror stories from our past, but I do believe that there comes a point when it is important that our kids know our stories, the bad as well as the good.

Good luck to you all...

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous posters. Send the letter to your MIL. And kudos to you for being so strong. This story made me cry for the child you were and the child you could not be. And don't worry about the "cycle". You, out of anyone, knows how it feels and you would never make your child feel that way.

Anonymous said...

Like other readers here, I am fully confident that the cycle of abuse has stopped *already* in your family. Your wisdom and grace, your awareness and honesty -- these things will enable you to be a wonderful mother.

And I'm on the "Send the letter" train too. Perhaps you could send a letter from both you and your husband (who sounds like a jewel!) so that you MIL knows that you are a united family front.

Let us all in the basement know when you have your sweet baby. Best wishes!

ewe are here said...

It sounds like you have nothing to lose by sending the letter, and everything to gain.

I'm sure you'll be a wonderful mother. Your child(ren) will never suffer the way you suffered.

Anonymous said...

I WORRIED that I would not be a very good mother becaue I was not mothered very well. You could call it abuse secondary to mother's mental illness. I now know that I CAN be a good mother. I didn't have that [a good role model, a good mother] but I. CAN. BE. THAT. FOR. SOMEONE ELSE. For my kids. I can be a good mother. I am a good mother. You can be a good mother too. You have shown insight. You have broken the cycle of abuse. You are fabulous. Don't every forget that.

Anonymous said...


I hope you send (sent?) that to your MIL. I hope you share it with your husband as well, and keep a copy for your child to have one day, when they're old enough to understand.

Susie Q said...

Please send her the letter. Sometimes seeing the words written on paper in black and white are more impactful and impossible to ignore. Let me echo many of the people before are an amazing and strong woman who has overcome a nightmarish upbringing. I am so happy that you have found a man you can trust completely and totally without reservation. You deserve many, many years of happiness.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to play devil's advocate (albeit politely, I promise!). There are a couple reasons I can see that aren't malicious of her, so I'm going to point the other side out.

The first one came up when you mentioned her saying he was "only" verbally abusive. Is it possible that your MIL has been through, or has seen someone close to her go through, physical and sexual abuse? This is not to downplay your situation at all, but in comparison, she may see the other as much much worse, and in the wrong way, be reminding you that people have it worse. Is it right that she downplays what you've been through to do so? No, and I'm not justifying it. I'm trying to point out that there may be something other than a casual brush off at work.

The other thing that I can see is a fear that your upbringing will affect your child; not that you will continue the cycle of abuse but that talking about it to a child is not fair to them. Maybe your MIL is of the school that you do not ever discuss your troubled past or problems with your children, and sometimes there's a valid point there. Short condensed anecdote: I have a friend who's been forced (20s now) into being her mother's therapist since she hit her teen years. Her mother talked about all of her problems and bad experiences to her before she was old or mature enough to handle it and I hate to say it, but now there is very little left of a mother/daughter relationship. Always remember that your child is a child, and they don't need to hear about parents past to rub in "I had a rough life and you've got it all." No child deserves a guilt trip for having good parents.

Now keep in mind, what I'm saying is just hypothetical, since I don't know your MIL or anything about how you raise, or will raise, your children. I'm just pointing out that there are other reasons for which she may brush off your past. She's not right to treat your suffering with such little regard, and I'm not defending it. I'm just trying to point out that it may not be out of malice or a disregard for you.

Louisa Claire said...

Hi there,

Firstly, your strength is amazing and you are right to feel incredibly proud of what you have overcome and how strong you are on the other side!

Secondly, I think Vanessa's devils advocate thoughts are helpful & it's good to be reminded that her words and actions may not have been intentionally malicious however it possibly isn't helpful to compare abuse-types...

Thirdly, I think you should send the letter. Whether your MIL was intending to be malicious or not you were hurt (understandably) but what you said will be helpful for her to hear and understand. Perhaps you could go over it with your husband first so that you are both comfortable with what you say?

Not that what I think counts for anything but just thought I'd put it out there. You are clearly an amazing, well thought-out, strong woman. Good luck with everything you do! Your self-awareness will be a great asset in your parenting & I am confident that you will be a wonderful mum! (Yes, I can tell that just from this post!:) )

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, since Louisa brings up a good point:

I'm not justifying comparing abuse types in the slightest. Abuse is abuse is abuse, and its all wrong on every level. All I was suggesting is that its a human tendency to think on the train of "I have, or know someone who has, gone through X so that makes X seem not near as rough, suck it up buttercup."

Is it right? Noooo. And original poster, please don't mistake me for justifying it at all. But it is human and possible. That's all I was trying to say. :)

Louisa Claire said...

Hi Vanessa, Totally with you...

Daughter-in-law - you are amazing!

Anonymous said...

I have A mother-in-law--I DO NOT TALK ABOUT MY LIFE TO HER.

I keep it simple and nice: Her focus is her son -- her son her son her son.

We are in-laws--a rare few get to feel like real daughters.

Insisting this woman acknowledge your life is unrealistic. Validation or compassion or understanding is asking too much--and, she is not trained to understand. Who can carry such pain? where would she put it?

You are strong and loved. But MILs are a rare breed and I do not believe in trying to get milk out of a horse. It's not mean of the horse, or withholding, just unrealistic.

I hold you in my heart for the abuse--I hold you in my heart for the dificulty of having a MIL: it's the price we pay for such beautiful husbands?

Please, don't send this to her. Save yourself. Pray. MILs only want to hear good. You will be a great mother, and MIL .... oh, man, she is the cross I have to bear. they are the cross we bear.

Will we become like our MILs when we have married children? They are MISERABLE.

Anonymous said...

I have three thoughts on this..

1. Either send the letter, or try again to voice these feelings to your MIL. She needs to understand you value her opinions enough that it hurts you when she dismisses the truth about what has defined you.

2. Don't talk about your abuse to your small children. I was able to allow my children to love their grandfather, even while making sure they were safe. That is a much more powerful memory for them, then the confusion of hating someone they don't really know well for hurting mom. If he won't be safe to have any contact with your children at all, that is fine, but don't make them hate him. And the thought of someone hurting mom, can be very traumatic to little ones who have such a natural strong bond with mom.

3. It is soo good of you to have risen above such difficult beginnings. It is wonderful you have learned to develop a normal, healthy relationship with your husband. You are strong and will not be your father. BUT..many here have said you will not continue the cycle of abuse because you are aware of it but it isn't that simple. It is going to be daily choices and continued personal work and behavior modification on your part. Raising children is hard and there are days when you will not have the patience you should. Be proactive with therapy and with constant communication with your husband regarding how you are both parenting. Be aware of what you do and why you do it and when you need to step away. You can make sure you don't mess up, but it is far harder given the trauma of your past than it is for someone with a more idealistic upbringing.

I wish you luck in this. I hope you are able to communicate your needs to your MIL in a way she can understand and receive it. I wish you luck in raising your children. I know they will be lucky children to have such a self aware mother.

Jenny, the Bloggess said...

Featured on Good Mom/Bad Mom on the Houston Chronicle:

Anonymous said...

Came here via Good Mom/Bad Mom.

Amazing story.

Pamela said...

Came here from Good Mom/Bad Mom.

I read all the comments, and really? Send the letter. You did not attack your MIL, the letter is well-thought out and well-said.

If I had to narrow it down to one reason to send this to her, it would be your desire to end the cycle. As somebody who had generations of cycle to end, I know how important it is to be surrounded by loving, encouraging people, and to set yourself up for success. Good for you, for being the last.

Anonymous said...

My husband came from a sometimes physically, always emotionally abusive household. He has recently cut off all contact with his parents (Thank God!!), but he is terrified of having kids because he doesn't want to perpetuate the cycle of abuse. I appreciate that it concerns him, but I also wish he would take the steps to overcome his childhood as you have. I know it can be done!

Anonymous said...

Just by acknowledging the cycle, by refusing to partake in it, by standing up against it, you've broken it.

Reading your letter, I heard echoes of my mother. She was abused as a child, walked out at 16, played a huge role in raising her younger siblings... and never laid a hand on me or my brother. She has been a wonderful, amazing, understanding mother, who has raised two successful children, and she's my best friend.

I know you're afraid, but the fact that you're that connected to your own experience, and thinking about this, says to me that you're going to be a wonderful mom. Good luck. And I hope that when your MIL sees what a wonderful child you raise, she realizes how amazing you are.

Anonymous said...

I'm the original poster. I just want to thank everyone for their input.

It has been two and a half months now, and I still haven't spoken to my MIL. My husband explained the gist of my letter to her, after talking me out of sending it by saying that she has enough pain in her life (she has some major physical problems), and doesn't need to be emotionally hurt by me. I can understand his perspective, so I agreed to let him handle the issue. During that call, he asked if she would try to be a bit more understanding. She assured him that she would, and expressed remorse for her actions to him, saying that she would apologize to me as soon as possible. I'm still awaiting her apology.

As far as I'm concerned right now, she has a choice to make. Either she can show me that she cares and apologize, or we can continue to deny each other’s existence. I'm embarrassed to admit that I almost hope she chooses not to have anything to do with me. She says such hurtful things and causes me so much pain that I dread having any interaction with her. This lack of calls/emails/visits has been such a welcome reprieve from her cruelty!

Again, thank you for your insight. It was wonderful to read your views on the subject, even when you didn't agree with what I said or did. Thank you for your support.

Diva Ma @ Mommy Fabulous said...

What a story you have to share. I'm not an emotional person in the least, but the idea that a child has to endure something so horrible is something to cry about.

I think you should send it. I think that if you are going to have any kind of relationship with your MIL you should share how you feel and sometimes people can listen better when it is on paper and they can't talk back. If she comes to you with understanding, great! If not, you may just have to let her go. Her negativity is counter productive to you and your healing and to your children.

Ally said...

I'm sorry to read about your horrific childhood, and wanted to say that this letter was very well-written and honest, and that I hope you can send some version of it to your MIL so that this is out in the open. Given the good upbringing that she gave your husband, I'm guessing that she just has no idea about the way she's making you feel. Best wishes to you.

Anonymous said...

Being a mother of four & suffering also from abuse - even receiving the same black eye, only my dad & mom didn't get to lie, I had to & the authorities didn't believe me. I was 8. I always worried about the cycle. In my family there were a few cycles to break. For the most part, I've found success.

While I am not a perfect mother, I don't abuse my kids physically or emotionally, I am completely there for them and I do my best to protect them. I don't smoke pot or drink like my parents did nor am I addicted to any other substance.

All I'm trying to say here is because you are acutely aware of the cycle, it's more than likely you will live your life away from that. You have already adopted change in your mind. One tiny piece of advice, if I can offer it, there is a feeling of all encompassing love, an indescribable love that comes as soon as you push your last push & the baby's shoulders squeeze out. Then you get to see and hold your baby - remember that. ALWAYS, when you feel angry, upset, take a breather & remember that moment - that love. It stays with you forever.

About your MIL - we don't marry our spouse's family, we marry the man - even if it doesn't feel that way. I hate to say this, but sometimes we just have to live with in law's ignorance.

Anonymous said...

send it